Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The exhibition of 204 Holocaust cartoons -- chosen from 1,200 contestants -- opened in Tehran on Monday, reports said.
The Iranian newspaper Hamshahri co-sponsored the Holocaust cartoon contest in response to the furor created by caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed -- first published last year in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
Jyllands-Posten said it published the Mohammed caricatures to press the issue of freedom of expression in a Europe that has become afraid to offend its Muslim population. Reprints of the cartoons in many European and other newspapers sparked violent protests throughout the world.
Organizers said the contest was intended to test the West's tolerance for cartoons about the Holocaust.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the Nazi regime's murder of six million Jews a "myth" and suggested that the State of Israel should either be moved to Europe or wiped off the map.
Indonesian cartoonist Tony Thomdean drew the Statue of Liberty holding a book about the Holocaust in one hand and saluting Nazi-style with the other, the Associated Press reported. (Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world.)
Jewish groups said that the West should take notice of the threat the exhibition implies to Western civilization.
"If the subject were amusing, we'd have a good laugh," said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. But it's not funny, he said.
"Clearly this is a provocation, intended to insult not only the Jews but Western Society," said Zuroff by telephone.
The Iranians are trying to de-legitimize the core beliefs of Western civilization, he added. The contemporary human rights agenda of the Western world was an outgrowth of its sensitivity to the Holocaust and dits etermination not to let another genocide take place again, Zuroff said.
"It [would be] too easy to dismiss this as a prank of Ahmadinejad. [But the West] would do well to take this seriously," he said.
Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem said the exhibition in a country that has nuclear aspirations and whose president has made genocidal declarations against Israel should be a "flashing red light signaling danger" to the world's enlightened nations.
"The alarming silence of the world indicates that the West has not yet understood that what is taking place is an attack on Western values and civilization," said Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate.
"History has demonstrated that silence in the face of evil statements begets evil actions. Iran has said the cartoon exhibit is a 'test of Western tolerance.' The West must stand up and say clearly: 'This we will not tolerate,'" he said in a statement.
"The exhibit not only is horrific propaganda that supports Holocaust denial, it also paves the road to justifying genocide of the Jews in Israel," said Joseph Lapid, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council.
Lapid, a Holocaust survivor, said Nazi propaganda had been used to persuade Germans that it was their duty to destroy the Jewish people. "From that point to the 'Final Solution,' the distance was short, and this is the path on which Ahmadinejad is headed."
Arieh O'Sullivan, spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League in Israel, said the cartoon contest shows "extremely poor taste."
"While the ADL is in favor of freedom of expression, it is not a license to foster hatred and that's what these cartoons are doing," said O'Sullivan by telephone. "They are blatantly anti-Semitic [with] these sorts of portrayals of Jews...
"Saying that [it] is a test of freedom of expression is a farce," said O'Sullivan. They are the number one violators when it comes to incitement against Jews."
This type of anti-Semitism, which Jewish leaders hoped had ended long ago, is just as virulent today as it was in 1930s Nazi Germany, he added.
The exhibit is scheduled to run until September 13. The winner will receive U.S. $12,000 in prize money, press reports said
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